Published in The Boar June 2013
‘What Next?’ started out as a small group committed to discussing and raising awareness about the latest Arts Council cuts and the future of the arts. It has now become the umbrella term for the first national gathering of arts and cultural organisations, aiming to promote public investment. As more of an idea or an experiment than a movement, it is possible for anyone to get involved and take it in their own direction.
Proving, debating and evaluating the value of the arts has become a heated topic in recent months. Although the What Next? ‘movement’ has formed against the backdrop of the national spending review, it is not limited to being a direct campaign about the cuts to public funding (said to be a further 30% for 2015/16.) Nor does it just make the case that Maria Miller has made, for the economic value of the arts. Instead, it has created a carefully phrased, positive manifesto to emphasise the beneficial aspects of all art forms for communities. Most importantly, it aims to encourage the public to think more conscientiously about the different ways the arts enhance their lives and engage with them to ensure the public start to actively participate in this debate. Their founding statement expresses their targets:
We believe that if we act together, we can maximise the effectiveness of our resources, our arguments, our ideas. True to the spirit with which we make and offer our art – imagination, persuasion, delight, generosity, conviction – we will find new ways to engage everyone in Britain in the power of the arts and culture and the benefits they bring to our collective and individual lives.
In particular, What Next? encourages organisations funded by the Arts Council to celebrate more prominently their public support, to make the arts a “manifesto issue” in the political life of Britain. This positive feedback will be an invaluable aspect of building greater respect for the arts and their value, which hopefully Warwick Arts Centre will join. In 2010, both Warwick Arts Centre and the Royal Shakespeare Company lost large proportions of their Arts Council funding, though the following year the Arts Centre (and Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre) managed to secure Arts Council funding until 2014. This has enabled the Arts Centre to continue to provide diverse entertainment and opportunities for students, children and visitors from a large surrounding radius.
Three of the main areas it invests in are scholarships for talented student musicians, commissions from regional artists and an arts education programme for children and young people. Annually, the Arts Centre has over 300,000 visitors and over 87,000 young people attend its programme of educational activities. It earns about 56% of its turnover from ticket sales, so it is paramount that external support for this lively community is maintained. This all seems to suggest that Warwick students will continue to enjoy all that the Arts Centre offers in the short term, though the future of the arts and its support from the government is as yet indeterminable.
Many students will have encountered first hand the difficulty in finding arts related work experience. I have frequently encountered arts magazines that are folding and or have been discontinued. On the other hand, set backs such as these can make those of us who are determined try even harder and to shout out in favour of organisations that are having their funding whisked away. It will test not only our resolve and commitment, but also teach us that from now on it is fundamental to openly express appreciation for the arts and support local artistic communities.
The power of articulated appreciation, and creative ways of supporting the art world are all about to be tested against a new level of resistance. Success is on hand, as What Next? have been credited particularly with lobbying education secretary Michael Gove to change his valuation of the importance of the arts in education. Who knows ‘what’s next?’